Berlin – the sustainable capital of fashion?

To learn more about Berlin Fashion Week 2022 and the city’s love for sustainable fashion, aware_ sat down with Berliner and green fashion expert Cherie Birkner 

sustainable fashion

As the world heats up, sustainable fashion has also become a hot (and pressing) topic. It is now well known that the fast fashion industry contributes a great deal to the destruction of our ecosystems as well as climate change through its processes of production, consumption and disposal. The situation is summed up by Cherie Birkner, Berlin-based founder of Sustainable Fashion Matterz: 

According to Clean Clothes Campaign, we are producing about one hundred billion clothes a year. From these, about 70% are sold, of which on average only 20% are even worn regularly. With this calculation, we have a yearly surplus of 85 billion items of clothing! We do not need more new clothes. We have enough. 

Evidently, the global fashion industry begs a serious transformation. To coincide with Berlin’s second annual Fashion Week (BFW), aware_ is delving into BFW’s relationship with sustainability. And to get a clearer picture of the event and Berlin’s intimate relationship to conscious fashion, aware_ talked to photographer and sustainable fashion expert Cherie Birkner. Her platform Sustainable Fashion Matterz offers a comprehensive curation of sustainable brands, projects and industry leaders as well as educational information for the public about the complex issues around fashion and sustainability.  

aware_: Cherie, when did you decide to start Sustainable Fashion Matterz and why? 

Cherie Birkner: I was working as a creative director for a fast fashion brand, and I came to the point when I could no longer handle the contradiction with my values. For example, I would always buy second-hand before I would buy anything new while simultaneously going into an office to sell more and more of a product that nobody really needed with a price tag that made production practices extremely questionable. 
I felt the need to talk about problems in the fashion industry, so I quit my job and decided to become a photographer. I wanted to work with people that cared about the impact of the fashion industry. At the time, in 2017, I attended the Green Showroom (today’s Neonyt) to take portraits of these change-makers and tell their stories. By the end of the event, I had taken 60 portraits and realized that there are sustainable solutions to every consumer need people just do not know that they exist!  

aware_: Which designers are you most excited to see at BFW this year and why? 

Cherie Birkner: I am most excited about the ESTETHICA event that is featuring ten designers from Berlin and Ukraine including one of my favourites Melisa Minca who is a fun and provocative up-cycling designer. Also, Vladimir Karalef who I discovered last season showing a dead-stock capital collection. These designers and those featured at Fashion Revolution are mostly engaged in up-cycling materials and really working with what is already there. That is also a thing that changed for me over the years. Six years ago, it was the organic fair-trade t-shirt that was sustainable and now the situation is like this: we have enough stuff on the planet. So let us use what we have and re-purpose it.  

aware_: What makes Berlin the green capital of fashion? 

Cherie Birkner: If you look at BFW, you see that the focus is on designers and events that prioritize sustainability practices. For example, if you are a brand that uses new plastic sequins, you are simply not up with the times anymore. The events around fashion week go deeper, it is not just a fashion show where the model is walking down the catwalk and you do not know how anything is made. In contrast, 202030 – The Berlin Fashion Summit is all about sharing the latest knowledge to educate the public. Also, Berlin has a culture of people gifting their clothes on the street or exchanging them. The city is even investing in circular fashion projects such as the A-Gain Guide which maps out all of Berlin’s options for pre-owned items. 

aware_: What are the most innovative sustainable fashion trends that are here to stay? 

Cherie Birkner: I would like to answer this after attending the 202030 summit! One thing that I have seen is that brands are making their own resale platforms. High-end brands are taking ownership of their brand style while giving their own customers the opportunity to re-sell their own products to keep them in the loop or taking them back to recycle the clothes properly. I am also very interested in clothing rental services such as Kleiderei, Pool Berlin and Clothes Friends, which work very well in big cities where people want to try the pieces on location. 

– by Tina Ateljevic 

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